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Budding Bill Bird shoemaker wins accolade

Chris Thorne from Bill Bird Shoes (r) with his trophy alongside his dad Mick, who is holding the winning shoes.
David Xavier Award winner Chris Thorne from Bill Bird Shoes and runner up Adele Williamson.
David Xavier Award winner Chris Thorne from Bill Bird Shoes and runner up Adele Williamson.

We are so proud to announce that Chris Thorne of Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire scooped the David Xavier Award at the 20th Independent Shoemakers Conference in Eastbourne recently – with his first ever pair of shoes.

The annual award, in memory of Midlands’ shoemaker and dear friend David Xavier, challenged budding shoemakers to make footwear to accommodate a medical condition.

Chris previously worked as an upholsterer in the vintage car industry for many years before joining Bill Bird Shoes. Although Chris has been making lasts here for a few years now, his winning entry, a pair of dark tan Derby brogues, the first pair of shoes he had ever made by himself.

Flowers in a boot Dave made at his funeral November 18th 2016. The boot held water!
Flowers in a boot Dave made at his funeral November 18th 2016. The boot held water!
David Xavier with Kate Bird and Carina Eneroth, Stockholm shoemaker to the Swedish Royal Family, who came to see David in his hospice a week before he died. We are a tight knit bunch, us shoemakers. Bill Bird is behind the camera.
David Xavier with Kate Bird and Carina Eneroth, Stockholm shoemaker to the Swedish Royal Family, who came to see David in his hospice a week before he died. We are a tight knit bunch, us shoemakers. Bill Bird is behind the camera.

Chris also produced an eye-catching portfolio describing the process he went through including his many mistakes and learnings along the way. He was presented with a silver trophy, £300 cash and £300 in leather vouchers.

Adele Williamson, an apprentice bespoke shoemaker at Tricker’s of Northampton, was named runner up. Adele’s entry was a pair of very elegant zip up the inside ankle boots to her own design.

Adele graduated with a BA from DMU in Footwear Design and Illustration in 2016 before being taken on by Tricker’s, which has been producing distinctive and carefully crafted shoes and boots since 1829. The contest attracted six entries and was a close run thing between the two of them.

Voting was made by the 80 delegates of the conference rather than by a panel. Each delegate had a little wooden last shape to tuck into a brown envelope next to the contestant’s entry.

Dave visited Bill Bird at our Cotswolds workshop about a month before he died. He, his wife Diane and his two sons came to deliver some machinery that we bought from his workshop near Redditch.
Dave visited Bill Bird at our Cotswolds workshop about a month before he died. He, his wife Diane and his two sons came to deliver some machinery that we bought from his workshop near Redditch.
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Bill Bird Shoes’ 30th anniversary of leasing Unit 49

Bespoke orthopaedic shoemaker, Bill Bird, back in the 80s

Today is the 30th anniversary of taking up the lease of Unit 49 – wow! That’s a lot of water under the bridge!

Bill Bird

The first pair of Bill Bird Shoes was made in the attic of 5 Bovill Road, London SE23 1HB as early as 1984.

I moved with my family to Mickleton, Gloucestershire, in September 1986. Henry was 10 months old, Camilla was 4 1/2 and Thomas was 7 1/2.

I worked in the back of Andy’s Blockley Cobbler shop in Blockley village from November 1986 until about June 1987. I used the north half of Unit 31 in Northwick Business Centre around the corner from Apt Design and Development after that.

I mostly commuted to London 4 days a week, sleeping overnight in Peen’s workshop in The Elephant and Castle area of SE London. Lobb’s owned Peens and I still worked for them at the time. I occasionally made lasts and shoes for the proto-business during that period.

Derek Smith and I started to build a workshop in the north half of Unit 31 in the summer of 1987.
When the opportunity of Unit 49 came up, we jumped at it and left Unit 31 gradually over the next couple of months.

I still commuted and worked for Lobb’s until May 9th 1988 when Mr Eric Lobb found out about Bill Bird Shoes and banished me. That’s when the business became a full time enterprise. Thank you Mr Eric. Without you doing that, it all may have just remained a part time hobby!

I started going to Freeman Tonkin, 34 Chiltern Street, across the street from Grey Flannel in spring 1987 for one day a week. They were a specialist shoe shop for people with fitting and walking difficulties and I did the bespoke work for those they could not fit off the shelf. That kicked off our client list big time!

I think the designated birthday of Bill Bird Shoes should be set as March 3rd 1987 to reflect the development of the business before Unit 49, especially as that’s about the time we set up on Chiltern Street. So… Happy 31st, Bill Bird Shoes!

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More national recognition for Bill Bird Shoes

Gloucestershire-based Bill Bird Shoes recently appeared in The Bulletin, a national magazine published by the British Polio Fellowship. Following its publication, we were really pleased to receive an email from one of its readers praising the work our skilled, bespoke shoemakers carry out.

I read the article on the Cordwainer in the New Year edition and was pleased to note that reference was made to Bill Bird Shoes. This is because that after my left ankle was rearranged in a car crash in 1990 I have used the services of Bill and his brilliant team to make all my boots.

Bill and his team have worked brilliantly with me over the years in producing not just the normal black leather boots but Desert Boots, Hiking Boots of both medium and high ankle support, a pair of tan boots that look like moccasins and the most comfortable pair of slippers that I can wear around the house safely without having to use my ankle support.

You are always met with open arms and tea or coffee, plus they have a resident cat and, if Russell has some of his menagerie with him that day, some very friendly dogs.

It is always a pleasure to visit Bill and his team in the knowledge that you will always get what you need from people who listen to what you need and produce fantastic footwear.

Gordon Kett

British Polio Fellowship Worthing & Sussex Branch

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Bill Bird is a Living National Treasure in Country Life

Living National Treasure Bill Bird

The team at Gloucestershire-based Bill Bird Shoes would like to say thank you to all the people who have been in touch since we appeared in Country Life magazine on January 31st.

We are delighted with the double page feature and photograph of our orthopaedic shoemaker, Bill Bird, which was taken by the talented photographer Richard Cannon at our Cotswolds workshop.

One of our clients said:

“As a reader of Country Life I was pleased to see that you have now gained the status of “living national treasure”.

I have always treasured your skill and kindness to me when I came to you for several pairs of boots. You continue to do great work, not least in helping people like myself, not only to walk but also to overcome the self consciousness that this kind of disability can bring. Long may you continue and I hope the pages of Country Life bring you more of the recognition you so deserve.”

For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is a digital version of the magazine feature. We hope you enjoy it. Living National Treasure Bill Bird

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“An extra ordinary pair of bespoke boots made by Bill Bird…”

Our bespoke shoemakers at Bill Bird Shoes in the Cotswolds and London

The team at Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire is always pleased to hear from happy clients so imagine our delight when we received this email and photos…

“An extra ordinary pair of bespoke boots made by Bill Bird, Russell, Emily, Becks and Chris…magical experience….magical boots…from an eternally grateful pair of feet and their owner.” Cherie

Bespoke shoemaker Emily and Cherie check the comfort and fit of her new boots at Bill Bird Shoes' Cotswold workshop
Bespoke shoemaker Emily and Cherie check the comfort and fit of her new boots at Bill Bird Shoes’ Cotswold workshop
Cherie takes a look at her new boots from bespoke shoemakers' Bill Bird Shoes in the Midlands
Cherie takes a look at her new boots
Cherie checks her new made to measure boots from bespoke shoemakers' Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire
Cherie checks over her new made to measure boots

 

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Celebrating shoemakers of the equestrian variety!

Moreton Show horse shoemaking winner Sam Wilkes – his prize was sponsored by Bill Bird Shoes bespoke shoemakers in the Midlands

Blockley-based Bill Bird Shoes is delighted to have once again sponsored the horseshoe making competition at Saturday’s hugely popular Moreton Show.

The Farrier Competition saw scores of hopefuls battle it out for the top spots and we are pleased to announce that Sam West won best 1st and 2nd year shoemaker, with Sam Wilkes taking the prize in the 3rd and 4th year category.

Master shoefitter, our very own Russell Marks, was also a Chief Equine Steward at the event. Russell has been a volunteer steward at the Moreton Show for the last five years and Bill Bird Shoes has sponsored the show for the last three.

Russell, who outside of work judges equines for several different societies across the UK and abroad, said: “As bespoke shoemakers ourselves, sponsoring the horseshoe making competition seemed like a natural choice. As a local business in the Cotswolds we like to support events on our doorstep.”

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Bill Bird Shoes presents ‘best shod horse’ trophy

Mrs H M Bailey and her horse Badger, receiving their engraved silver salver and rosette from judge Steve Arnold and Vicki Gumbley from Bill Bird Shoes.

Midlands-based Bill Bird Shoes may be better known for creating bespoke shoes for people with walking and fitting difficulties but we like our equestrian friends to be well shod too!

This is why we sponsored the Ally Sadler Trophy for Best Shod Horse at Saturday’s Moreton Show, one of the biggest one-day agricultural shows in the country.

Here is Mrs H M Bailey and her horse Kempez Cwnere, who is also known as Badger, receiving their engraved silver salver from judge and expert farrier Steve Arnold and Vicki Gumbley from Bill Bird Shoes.

Mr Arnold said the reason Badger’s shoes were singled out for this prestigious award was because they had been excellently crafted by hand, rather than machine. This is something the talented shoemakers at Bill Bird Shoes pride themselves on as well.

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Bill Bird Shoes catches up with a celebrity client

Bill Bird with David Graham - alias Parker, Grandpa Pig and Wise Old Elf - at Bill Bird Shoes' fitting room in Grey Flannel London

We were delighted to chat with our loyal client David Graham recently. David’s career in theatre, TV and film spans almost 60 years and today he is probably best known for providing the voice of Parker in Thunderbirds – both in the iconic TV series of the 60s and the recent film sequels – Grandpa Pig in the hugely popular children’s cartoon series Peppa Pig and the Wise Old Elf in Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom series that regularly appears on Nick Jnr.

David Graham said: “I have the highest regard for Bill and his team. The quality of work is excellent.

“People who don’t know I have a foot problem would hardly be able to tell. Someone in the profession would notice but no-one else. I’ve had at least 15 pairs of shoes from Bill Bird and I usually see Bill in London at Grey Flannel where I buy my clothes.

“Bill has enabled me to walk with a handicap more or less normally. The quality of his work is excellent. I have nothing but praise for him. Bill is such a nice bloke and I’m glad he’s got such a marvellous team.

“I am very grateful to Bill that his shoes have allowed me to pursue a successful career without anyone being any the wiser.”

Read David’s full testimonial here.

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Brand new Bill Bird Shoes newsletter is hot off the press!

Bill Bird Shoes newsletter

Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire is really pleased to publish our first newsletter and we hope you enjoy reading it. We’d love to hear your feedback, so get in touch to let us know what you think. We look forward to hearing from you.

And if you fancy sharing it with your friends, colleagues and family, please feel free.

Click here to download The last word newsletter from Bill Bird Shoes Bill Bird Shoes newsletter

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Shoes for your walk of life

Bill Bird Shoes brochure through the years
Spreading the word about our bespoke orthopaedic shoes – Bill Bird Shoes brochures through the years. The grey one dates back to the 1990s.

Shoes for people with fitting and walking difficulties, has been the job title at Bill Bird Shoes for years but it took us a long time to arrive at it. It is an accurate statement inclusive of the whole range of reasons our clients come to us, without being off-putting to anyone. At Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire and London we have found out just how important the right use of language is when communicating with the public. Words and phrases that now trip off our tongues as simple common sense, actually took years to find.

For instance, we have clients, not customers as a regular shoe shop does; and not patients as an orthotist or podiatrist does. Why? Because our clients are not just buying something ready-made, nor surrendering to our expertise as a patient does to a podiatrist. More like the relationship between a client and architect, we help the client discover what they want and what is right for them and then we make it, conferring with them all the way

Footwear for Special Needs

During the 80s and 90s, The British Footwear Manufacturers Association (now Britfoot) published an annual booklet called Footwear for Special Needs. This put thousands of people in touch with the shoemaker they needed and it helped give us shoemakers low-cost, effective marketing before the advent of the internet.

The Britfoot publication also popularised the term Footwear for Special Needs, a phrase that describes the work that we all do without carrying any social stigma. Before that, terms like surgical boots, orthopaedic shoes and even therapeutic footwear had associations of an ungainly appearance and the fear of social exclusion. The public could be even more scathing with words like hospital boots and cripple shoes.

The term bespoke describes all that is best in made-to-measure shoe design and making. About ten years ago we placed it in front of the word orthopaedic and the combined term – bespoke orthopaedic – immediately carried a new meaning. Every aspect of the shoe is designed and prescribed for the individual’s condition and needs, paying as much attention to achieving the best possible style and elegance as it does to comfort and treating the client’s condition.

Finding the right words

In 1991, Kate, a journalist and copy-writer (and later Bill Bird‘s wife) joined our firm as workshop manager. As well as designing our still-used and very successful scheduling system, Kate also wrote our first brochure, which has since evolved into the one that we use today.

The process of writing and re-writing it helped us to find the words that best described what we can do, what we can’t do, and how clients can benefit from our service. This not only gave us an informative document to send out in answer to enquiries, it also helped us to be more clear and consistent when answering telephone enquiries. The copy used in our brochure also provided the original framework for our first website on Microsoft Front Page in the late 1990s. It still does so today.

In 1993, Kate came up with the phrase that encapsulates the essence of our service and is still used on our website – ‘Wearing shoes can become a pleasure again, whatever shape your feet are in.’ Some ten years later we finally arrived at the words that describe what it is we actually do. That is, we make ‘shoes for people with fitting and walking difficulties’. Or as they say elsewhere ‘we do what it says on the tin’.

Bill Bird Shoes in the Midlands and London handcrafts fashionable, made-to-measure shoes and boots for problem feet. Contact us to find out how we can help transform your life.